My eyes met with Katarina and we watched each other for a solid minute without either one of us moving. When Katarina jerked to the upright position, the handcuff clinked as she brought her arm up to her hip, where the gun was absent. I had fastened her wrist to the frame of the couch, picking a spot that looked like it would hold despite the rot. I grabbed at the gun in my pocket, fumbling it into my hands and pointing it at Katarina.
“Easy! Easy…” I said, trying to appear confident.
Her eyes narrowed. “What do you plan to do with me?”
“Do?” I was taken aback by her first question.
“Sell me as a slave? Eat me?” She covered her chest with her free hand. “Rape?”
“What! Why would I do any of that?”
“You chained up a sick woman while she was unconcious. Do you think that shows you have noble intentions?” She demanded with her eyes narrowed to slits.
“I treated you! I just didn’t want you to kill me in some fever dream!” I shot back.
“That’s rich, coming from the guy who robbed me in the first place.”
“You put a gun to my head!”
“And you’re pointing a gun at me now.” She snorted dismissively, unconvinced of my good intentions.
My hand loosened slightly on the gun, but then I steeled myself. “That’s right! I’m in charge now! I need something from you.”
“So, it is my body you want after all…” She said in a resigned voice.
“What’s with you and that? I want the anti-cancer medicine.”
“You’re still on about that?”
I took a few steps forward, holding the gun up with both hands menacingly. “Always! I will always be on about that until I can save my mother! You’re the only person in this fucked-up world I know who isn’t dead. I don’t know what’s out there, but you do! So, help me… or I’ll… I’ll… shoot you dead.”
I couldn’t stop my voice from shaking, but I kept myself as steady as possible. With one hand raised in surrender and the other locked to the couch, she moved into a sitting position while I kept the gun aimed at her head.
“How do you expect to shoot me dead… with the safety still on?”
My eyes slipped to the gun. She leaped forward, dragging the couch two feet as she closed the distance between us. I tried to jump back, but she grabbed the gun with her free hand and yanked. Trying to keep her from wrestling the gun away, I was pulled along like a rag doll. Katarina was much stronger than I ever anticipated. I couldn’t even resist as I was dragged toward her.
She spun and dipped down, throwing me over her shoulder and onto the couch. The gun was now in her hand. She swung her leg over and jumped on top of me. She smoothly flipped the gun in her hand. In a swift motion, she shot the handcuff chain and freed her other hand before shoving the gun right into my forehead.
“Still an idiot, I see.” She declared in a rough and unforgiving voice.
She was on top of me now, her legs straddling my hips on the uncomfortably broken couch. I could feel a jagged piece of metal digging into my back. I was panting hard, but Katarina looked coldly professional and unperturbed.
I let out a sigh, closing my eyes. “If you’re not going to help me, just kill me.”
I waited for the end, but after a moment, the pressure on my head went away. Katarina unwrapped her legs around me. She was still sitting on me, but now her butt was solidly sitting on my hips. She was pretty light, a testament to how little she ate, especially after her recent illness. I opened one eye, and then the other. Katarina was slouched, staring off distantly, the gun hanging loosely in her hand like she was deep in thought. She still gave the feeling of a woman under tension. Even though she looked relaxed, she had the feeling she could lift that gun and shoot without hesitation.
After a few moments of silence, she glanced over at me. “You shouldn’t have come back here.”
“I had no choice, I need the-“
“The anti-cancer medication, yes, I heard.” She responded snidely. “But a colonist like you, the wasteland will eat you alive.”
“I already said, I’m not a colonist…”
“You’re some… special colonist, right?”
I stared at her for a second and then nodded. “Something like that.”
“You come from someplace that can only be accessed through that mirror.”
This time, it was a statement.
“I tried to follow you through, but the mirror didn’t work for me. I searched the building thinking I needed more crystals. I thought if I had enough, I could follow you and get my stuff back. The second floor of this building had a Neerrat nest. Ten of the bastards, and a Neerrat queen. Clearing it nearly killed me. Had you been to the second floor, your death would have been certain. I cleared them out and burned them outside in the back. Burnt Neerat smells bad, it keeps the other creatures in the city at bay.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go through the mirror. The Neerrat Queen also broke a shard of a radioactive tooth off in my leg. I didn’t realize I was being irradiated until the sickness hit. With the amount of damage I received, I should have died.”
“I… gave you Rad-Z and Regen-X doses.”
She nodded. “That’s expensive medicine. Those two doses cost the equivalent of the entire Neerrat nest. How long was I out?”
“It’s been five nights since I was last here.”
“Three nights knocked out…” She muttered. “Another day, and I would have been dead.”
She sniffed suddenly, her contemplative demeanor melting as she stood up. “What is that smell?”
“Ah! My food!” I leaped off the couch and ran past her, causing her to let out a noise of alarm.
I returned to my portable cooker and pulled off the soup. Katarina approached, watching me hesitantly as I carefully went into my backpack and pulled out the leftovers. I then preceded to heat them. As the smell filled the room, Katarina’s expression turned slack and it looked like she was drooling a bit. I put the leftovers on a plate from the campfire cooking set I brought and handed it to her. Since she was up, it’d be best if she had some real food. I took the soup.
“F-for me?” She said in surprise.
“You just recovered from near death; you need to get your energy up,” I responded.
That was all she needed. She immediately dug in. She picked up a piece of chicken and bit into it carefully. As her teeth sunk into the chicken, her entire body shook like she was experiencing ecstasy. She suddenly shoved the entire piece into her mouth. Chewing noisily, she began to shovel up handfuls at a time, moaning in delight as she ate piggishly. I made a move to readjust myself, and she snarled, turned her shoulder to me like she was afraid I’d take it from her. Only then did she blush and slow down.
“S-sorry… old habit.”
“It’s just leftovers…” I responded helplessly.
‘Ah, that’s when there is food from a meal…”
“I know what leftovers are, Idiot!” She snapped, but then calmed down. “I just… it’s been a long time since I’ve seen enough food to have leftovers.”
Her voice sounded sad and slightly distant.
“I have your stuff… I mean… I brought your pack back. You can have it all back.”
I lifted her pack and slid it over to her. I didn’t want to leave her unmentionables in my room. My nosy sister might very well look around and find them. They were a timebomb sitting in my closet, and I was eager to get rid of them, so I brought the entire bag back here along with my own supplies.
“You didn’t go through it, did you?” She demanded as she brought her pack to her side and glared at me suspiciously.
“I was looking for the… heh… it doesn’t matter.” I shook my head. “My offer stands. Take me to a pharmacy and get me some anti-cancer medication. I’ll give you as much food as you want.”
At this point, she was licking her plate, and she shook when I said those words. “As much as I want?”
I gave her a serious look, and then picked up the extra pack I had filled up with only food. I tossed it to her foot with a clank. She looked inside, and seeing nearly two dozen cans of food, she gasped.
“That’s just a down payment. Get me that medicine, and I’ll get you five times that much.”
“You…” She spoke softly as she stared into the bag with wide-eyed wonder. “Just who are you?”
“I’m someone who can get food through that mirror. That’s all you need to know.”
“This food is fresh and doesn’t have any irradiation. Most of these foods should be extinct. You have no clue the value of this backpack you just casually tossed at me. Anyone would go mad over accumulating such wealth. Entire battles between outposts would be fought over half this much.”
“It’s meaningless to me.” I shot back. “My mother… is all that matters.”
“You’re definitely not a wastelander,” She said with a sigh. “They wouldn’t care about other people like you do.”
“If wastelanders are like you describe, then I’m happy I don’t know them,” I responded.
Her face filled with a complicated look, and I was afraid I had gone too far. I only remembered she was one such wastelander after I had said those words. However, she calmed down quickly. She returned a serious look.
“You’re weak. You’ve not done any gene therapy to increase your 5S. You’re soft. You help people you shouldn’t help and show mercy and kindness. The wasteland will eat you alive.”
“I don’t care.”
She nodded like she expected that. “Then… I will help.”
I raised my head with a surprised look, a smile breaking on my face. “Really?”
“F-for food!” She blushed, turning away. “This is purely business! I will be your wasteland guide. You keep the food coming, and… and… I’ll keep you safe! That’s the agreement.”
“It’s a deal!” I immediately clung to the lifeline given.
However, for some reason, Katarina wouldn’t meet me in the eyes again until after I wiped the smile from my face.